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Post  Post subject: New Article  |  Posted: Sun Sep 30, 2012 1:29 am
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God of Elves, Seer Stones and a Hat

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Location: Bellevue, WA

Apocalypse Now Part II — The Story of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

Charles Taze Russell (1852–1916), Founder of a Movement which branched into the Jehovah’s Witnesses

In 1868 a young Charles Russell, seemingly by accident attended a meeting in a dusty rundown hall in Allegheny, Pennsylvania; where he had heard that religious services were being held. Russell was looking for answers; he wanted to see if the handful of people who met there had anything more sensible to offer than the creeds of the major churches. What he found was an Adventist preacher named Jonas Wendell.

Wendell was teaching that in 1873 six thousand years will have passed since the creation of Adam; and, in the autumn of 1873, the Advent would occur. Like other Adventist’s of his day, Wendell believed that immediately after Christ catches up the faithful, the world would be destroyed by fire. During this meeting, Russell’s faith in God and belief in the Bible, which had lapsed in recent years, was restored.

Recounting this history Russell said,
“I soon began to see that we were living somewhere near the close of the Gospel Age, near the time when the Lord declared that the wise, watching ones of His children should come to clear knowledge of His Plan. At this time, myself and a few other Truth seekers in Pittsburg and Allegheny, formed a class for Bible study; and the period from 1870 to 1875 was a time of constant growth in grace, in knowledge and in love of God and his Word.” (Watch Tower, First Faint Gleam of God’s Plan, June 1, 1916, p. 170)

Russell began to fellowship with Adventist preacher George Storrs. Storrs, one of Wendell’s associates, had played a major role in the Millerite movement. However, Storrs became disillusioned with William Miller after the Great Disappointment of 1844. He believed that he had been mesmerized by Millerite emotionalism. Storrs took the young Russell under his wing and had great influence on him. It was Storrs who taught Charles Russell many of the doctrines that are penned throughout Watchtower publications:
1. An earthly second resurrection for all those who had died without the knowledge of Christ.
2. A restored Paradise on earth.
3. The taking of sacraments (bread and wine) only once a year.

Many of Russell’s ideas concerning the “time of the end,” the return of Jesus Christ; and, the coming kingdom, came from concepts which were popular in Russell’s day. The two-stage return of Christ doctrine is a good example. Dr. Joseph Seiss refined the doctrine, which had originated in 1828 and spread throughout Great Britain in the 1860s and 1870s.
Yet, the man who influenced Russell the most was Nelson Barbour. Barbour, a friend and colleague of both George Storrs and Wendell, was among the Adventists who were disappointed in 1843-44. Barbour bought into the prevailing idea that 1843 was the beginning of a 30 year period of tarrying, which would culminate with Christ’s Second Coming in 1873. He desperately believed that in order for people to escape the coming wrath; they needed to be informed; so, he invested his time and money, and began publishing his views.

Nelson H. Barbour (1824–1905)

In 1871, Dr. Nelson H. Barbour, an Adventist preacher who had been with Miller, was printing a struggling publication out of Rochester, New York, entitled:
“And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him ...” (Matthew 25:6, KJV)
Barbour’s message contained the same, stubborn, divisive spirit as the message which Adventists had been proclaiming since the 1840s:
“The dividing line is being drawn. Everything speaks it! Chronology proves we are already in "THE DAY OF THE LORD." A few fleet moments remain for us to make our final decision. … If men will shut their eyes to all the mass of evidence in the signs of the time… then they must meet their doom. And leaning on your churches or preachers, or one another, will be a poor refuge from the storm. ‘Come out and be ye separate.’" (Herald of the Morning, 1874, p. 57, Nelson Barbour)

To get his points across, Barbour did try entertaining his readers with several homespun parables, yet, the bottom line was always; if the reader didn’t buy into his message, it was because their eyes were closed.
When 1873 came to an end without the anticipated results, Barbour looked for Jesus to return in 1874. When the anticipated date for that return failed, Barbour pored over his time prophecies once more to see if any mistakes had been made. He found none.

This caused Mr. Barbour to give further consideration to the “two-stage-return of Christ doctrine;” a view which his associate, Benjamin W. Keith held. Keith was convinced that Jesus had indeed returned in 1874; yet, Christ was invisible. Soon, Jesus would make himself known through judgments on earth; as spelled out in the Book of Revelation. Barbour was now convinced that there was even more urgency to herald,
“the glorious morning of the restitution; the day so long desired by apostles, prophets, and martyrs.” (Midnight Cry, 1871, p. 38, Nelson Barbour)

Nelson Barbour Renames His Publication, The Midnight Cry and Herald of the Morning

One winter’s day in January 1876, Charles Russell read a copy of Herald of the Morning. Russell, along with others in his bible study group recently came to believe that when Christ returns, he would
“… be present and yet invisible to men…”
Can you imagine Russell’s emotions as he considered that the invisible return of Christ may have already commenced. Russell was impressed with Barbour’s publication. Yet, he still wasn’t totally convinced that Christ had already returned. So, he sent train-fare to Barbour and asked him to come to Philadelphia and fully show the scriptural proof that Jesus was present.
This is exactly what Nelson Barbour did. Russell was satisfied with the reasoning. He moved to New York, backed the publication financially, and went to work as Barbour’s assistant. It was at the office of Herald of the Morning that Russell published his first pamphlet.

Russell’s First Publication:
In 1877 Russell authored and printed 50,000 copies of a 64 page pamphlet entitled, The Object and Manner of Our Lord’s Return. Many of the concepts stated in the pamphlet appear to have come directly from Storrs and Seiss. Russell also borrowed directly from the commentaries of Sir Isaac Newton and Adam Clarke.

While Russell gave no date for the return of Christ in his pamphlet, he did spell out the manner in which Jesus would return:
“Briefly stated, we believe the scriptures to teach, that, at His coming and for a time after He has come, He will remain invisible; afterward manifesting or showing Himself in judgments and various forms, so that “every eye shall see Him.”
In a footnote on the same page Russell goes on to explain, “This scripture (Revelation 1:7) does not necessarily teach that every eye will see Him at the same moment” (Object and Manner, 1877, p. 39).
Russell also stated,
“But it is not my object in this pamphlet to call your attention more fully to the TIME of the second advent… (Those interested in knowing the evidences as to the time, I would refer to Dr. N. H. Barbour, editor of the “ Herald of the Morning.” Rochester, N. Y.) I simply add that I am deeply impressed and think not without good scriptural evidence, that the Master is come and is now inspecting the guests to the marriage. (Matt. 22:11).” (Object and Manner, 1877, p. 62).

It didn’t take long before Russell fully bought into Barbour’s teaching on the TIME ; culminating in the rapture of the faithful, 3.5 years later in 1878.

The Disappointment of 1878:
Envision Russell’s frustration as 1878 was coming to an end. He had fully expected to be taken to heaven. Again, Charles was looking for answers. He and Nelson Barbour had a falling out when the Rapture did not occur in 1878, because Barbour set out to change the date. Russell maintained that 1878 was the right year, but his expectations as to what would occur must have been wrong. Perhaps the resurrection was invisible. Russell surmised that the faithful who died after the autumn of 1878 would be immediately resurrected and not sleep in death. Russell believed that the dead were resurrected in 1878 and that the living would be caught up in 1881. Because of this and other disputes, Barbour and Russell split. Charles was now free to publish his own concepts: he started printing a monthly publication entitled Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence.

Russell wrote these words:
“Looking back to 1871, we see that many of our company were what are known as Second Adventists, and the light they held, briefly stated, was that there would be a second advent of Jesus—that he would come to bless and immortalize the saints, to judge the world and to burn up the world and all the wicked. This, they claimed, would occur in 1873 because the 6,000 years from the creation of Adam were complete then.
Well, 1873 came, the end of 6,000 years, and yet no burning of the world; but prophecies were found which pointed positively to 1874 as the time when Jesus was due to be present . . . The autumn of 1874 anxiously expected finally came, but the earth rolled on as ever; ‘all things continued as they were from the beginning of creation.’ All their hearts were sad; they said, surely we have been in error—but where? Surely it is clearly taught that Jesus will come again; perhaps our calculation of time is at fault. Carefully they examined the chronology but it seemed faultless and positively declared that the 6,000 years ended in 1873. Then the prophetic arguments were carefully re-examined: Was an error found? No, they stood the test of all investigation.” (Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence, Zion’s Watchtower, Feb. 1881)

Russell was convinced that the period that he and his colleagues set for Christ’s presence to begin on earth was correct. However, as the year 1881 was coming to an end, he found it necessary to make some changes in his timetable. Russell abandoned the earlier time frames of a three-and-a-half- or seven-year period after Christ’s invisible return before Armageddon and started teaching there would be a forty-year waiting period instead.

In due time the Watchtower Society maintained that Armageddon would occur in the autumn of 1914. 1914 came and went. Russell then penned these words:
“We consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the kingdom of God, will be accomplished near the end of A.D. 1915.”

Russell also taught that the burning of the world by fire at Armageddon was not expected to be
“… literal in nature but was really symbolic and signified a great time of trouble which would be the close of the Gospel age and dawn of the Millennial age in which all evil principles of governments and society would be manifested and destroyed.”

When Charles Russell died in 1916, he was convinced that World War I would soon culminate in Armageddon.

After Russell’s death, the Watchtower organization, under Russell’s successor, Judge Rutherford, announced,
“The establishment of the Kingdom in Palestine will probably be in 1925, ten years later than we once calculated.”
Nineteen twenty-five came and went. Armageddon didn’t happen. God’s kingdom was seemingly nowhere in sight. The wicked were still among us. There had been one slip-up after another in the organization’s date-setting practices. Yet, concerning the 1925 date, Judge Rutherford had once promised the faithful,
“There will be no slip-up!” (Watchtower, Oct. 15, 1917, p. 6157)
Claims Made by the Watchtower:

In the 1920s, The Watchtower Society penned the following statements:
• “The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the ‘time of the end’ began in 1799; that the Lord’s second presence began in 1874.”
• “Surely there is not the slightest room for doubt in the mind of a truly consecrated child of God that the Lord Jesus is present and has been since 1874.” Look at the word usage in these passages:
• “indisputable facts,”
• “not the slightest room for doubt.”

These strong statements allegedly nailed down the Watchtower’s foundational teaching that in 1874, Christ’s earthly presence began. Earlier—in Russell’s day—the terms “unchallenged and incontrovertible” were used to defend this teaching.

However, as year after year went by failing to bring Armageddon, followers were beginning to lose faith in the Watchtower organization. The faithful were leaving by the droves. Something had to be done. In 1932 a group of men at the Watchtower headquarters in New York restructured their timetable. They abandoned the 1874 date for Christ’s invisible return altogether.

Once again the year 1914 was in vogue, not for Armageddon, as was previously taught—1914 became the new year for Christ’s invisible return. The story as told in the Watch Tower magazine was that “invisible angels channeled” this information to those overseeing the Watchtower organization. A Watchtower book entitled, God’s Kingdom (1973) claimed this change was made official in 1943. Changing the time of Christ’s return pushed Armageddon off for one more generation.

The Great Disappointment of 1975:

The Jehovah’s Witnesses expected that as God’s Seventh Day commenced, the millennial kingdom would be established on earth. In 1966, the year 1975 was officially embraced as the last year marking the end of the six-thousand-year period since the creation of Adam, not 1872 or 1873 or 1972 as was once taught. Many Jehovah’s Witnesses, upon hearing that 1975 was the end of the great six days of human existence, sold their houses, quit their jobs, and went into the ministry full time. Older Witnesses withdrew their pensions and followed suit. The church encouraged this behavior:
“Yes, the end of this system is so very near! Is that not reason to increase our activity?... Reports are heard of brothers selling their homes and property and planning to finish out the rest of their days in this old system in the pioneer service. Certainly this is a fine way to spend the short time remaining before the wicked world’s end.”

These dedicated Witnesses expected that in 1975 or shortly thereafter, Armageddon would destroy all of mankind except for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, Jehovah’s Witnesses, out of a genuine concern, warned the world of their danger. From 1968 to 1975, the Watchtower Society grew in numbers by over two and one-half million.
However, when October 1975 came and went, it brought great disappointment to many who had trusted in the Watchtower organization and had sacrificed everything in order to win souls. Jehovah’s Witnesses repeated the Millerite movement of 1844 in 1975.
Can we learn anything from the history of the Watchtower Society? All of the years established for the Rapture of the church, the Battle of Armageddon, and the Second Coming of Christ were erroneous, even though they were presumed to be infallible.

For more on this subject please read: Two Claims of Jehovah’s Witnesses Examined:

My LDS Series:
Rich Kelsey

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